The following topic is extremely sensitive and important to me. It isn’t until now that I have been able to wear my heart on my sleeve, and discuss Like many, I have struggled with my mental health since I was a child. I figure it was inevitable; I was raised in foster care where I was mentally, physically, and sexually abused. I don’t know anyone who would walk away from that without emotional scarring and trauma. For transparency, I’ll be upfront about my diagnoses. I have bipolar disorder on axis 1 which includes anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and social anxiety disorder. My conditions also causes terrible insomnia when my mood is down.
People who are close to me know that I spent most of my childhood in anger. I was mad at myself and the world. Everyone around me was the enemy. Imagine living like that as a child. My upbringing wouldn’t be the only thing to damage my mental health though. My family’s indifference towards my condition that made it worse. Like many Black families, they didn’t believe in mental health disorders. I was just a bad kid. I still remember the first time I was hospitalized. My guardian at the time was a family member who could no longer “deal with me” so ACS suggested putting me in the hospital. Looking back on my behavior, I was extremely distressed.
I acted out in school, ran the hallways, ripped the art off the walls, and talked back to teachers. But I was smart. I always did my work, and I usually finished before my other peers. Where most kids would use this free time to daydream, my mind would always go back to my trauma. I would remember how my cousin forced me to perform oral sex on him. The only person in the house who knew was my little brother. When I was hospitalized, I felt like I was being punished for my own abuse. In the hospital, I was diagnosed with ADHD ( Attention -Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD ( Oppositional Defiant Disorder) From there both my brother and I were shipped off to group homes. Everyone around me in my life was failing me. By the time I was 15 I was on a slew of medications, not ready to go into the real world, but was thrust into it anyway.
My black family was no help to me. If my depression showed I was crazy, weak, or super emotional. When I was feeling suicidal, a friend of mine was told by my sisters that it was for attention. It didn’t matter to them what I was suffering with. I should have been able to suck it up the way they were taught to. As if that’s good for you. Black people are also quick to equate mental health issues as white people problems. But in all actuality, Black people are 20% more likely to face a mental health illness over the general population. With my bipolar disorder, I experienced Hyper-Sexuality and was shamed for my sexual behaviors and choices. Again no one thought to help me, just make me feel like shit about myself.
At 26, I finally realized just how unsupportive my family was. While it was their choice, I had to realize they did not have the education needed to recognize mental health issues. If you knew better, you’d do better. That’s still not an excuse though. When I began to talk openly about my issues and how best to deal with them, I was shunned. No one took the time to research. I want to make sure that no other Black child or adult suffers in silence.
There has been an increased risk of suicide with black children under the age of 13 Suicide is also higher in black boys than it is in black girls. Black boys are taught from young that they need to deal with their shit like a man. Which entails not crying, not talking about their feelings, that violence is the answer. The lack of emotional development has horrific effects on black boys. Black girls on the other hand are taught a different way to deal with things. We are taught that we should tolerate emotional abuse, that we should tolerate physical abuse, we are taught to carry the world on our shoulders, that everything we do is to appease a man and damned what we want in the process. These things build depression , anxiety , low self esteem, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, PTSD, and suicide. Many Black women and girls do not kill themselves or even admit they are struggling. We are taught that strong black women do not break, that our mothers and grandmothers went through worse than us, and still made it. The shame in being weak outweighs the want for help.
Black people live in a world that is truly out to get them, and we do not understand the meaning of self-care. It’s not just our bodies that need taking care of, it’s our minds too. I will always ask a friend who is struggling f they have access to therapy, and or any other type of help. If they do not I go out of my way to be a place where they can vent their feelings. It‘s important that we as black people listen to one another and help each other get the help we need. t’s so heart wrenching to not be believed by people who share the same blood as you and furthermore it’s disheartening to not be believed by people who look like you.
With the the continued oppression we face, one would think it’d be simple to see how that affects our mental health. Poverty, racism, colorism, sexism, and toxic masculinity continue to have adverse effects on our health. If you are dealing with something, please try to seek therapy. Talk to someone. A friend; a family member; someone who will listen. But please, do right by yourself and seek that help.
Click on the following links for Black owned mental health facilities in New York, and information from the Black Mental Health Association: